When we think about the Revolutionary War, we often get an image in our minds of a ragtag group of American soldiers bravely fighting off the British forces. When looking back through the lens of history, it can be hard to imagine that settlers would willing take the side of the British. However, in the freshly formed colonies, there remained a large swath of the populous who felt that the American colonies were better off remaining under the control of the British. This population, the Loyalists, offers those of us in the modern-day states the opportunity to view a different perspective, offering us a deeper insight into what life was like at the dawn of the Revolution. Today, let’s take a different look at Trenton’s revolutionary past as we explore what life was like for Loyalists in the Capital City.

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand who the Loyalists were and what they believed. Broadly, a Loyalist is defined as those who remained loyal to the British crown in the midst of the American Revolution. While some Loyalists abstained from the war altogether, others opted to fight alongside the British soldiers. From the perspective of modernity, it may seem trivial to have sided with the British. However, many of the Loyalists in the newly-formed colonies had deep ties to England, forced to reckon with the reality of their newfound split loyalty. A complex reality resting on the axis of heritage and their new home, one can begin to understand the difficult decision many colonists were force to make during this conflict.

When it comes to Loyalist sentiment in the Capital City, you may be shocked to find out that Trenton was a hotspot for British sympathies. While Trenton is widely regarded as a pivotal point in ultimately winning the Revolutionary War for Patriot forces, many residents of Trenton did not share this same vision for the nation. As a matter of fact, when it came time to go to battle in the Capital City, George Washington and his troops expressed concerns regarding the conditions in our community.

When Washington sent General Philemon Dickinson to find a Trenton resident who could share further information on the city’s conditions, Dickinson remarked “…I have endeavored to prevail with some intelligent person to go down into Trenton, but hitherto without success. If ‘tis agreeable to your Excellency, I will offer fifteen or twenty dollars to a good hand, who will undertake it, if such a one can be found. People here are extremely fearful of the inhabitants at Trenton betraying them.” Ultimately, when Trenton was occupied by the British and Hessian forces, many residents fled the area. Others, however, stayed behind, opting to seek protection from the British.

During the Revolutionary War, times in Trenton were tense. On one hand, many of the community’s residents were skeptical at best, creating a less than ideal environment to fight for the nation’s freedom. On the other hand, however, Trenton was the center of the action for much of the Revolution’s great successes. From the Christmas sneak attack on the Hessians to Trenton even serving as the temporary capital of the United States, it is in this very city that the soul of our nation was won. Although there were split allegiances within the region, history will ultimately remember Trenton’s role in the Revolution for its contributions to America’s eventual victory.

When looking back on history, it’s critical that we examine all perspectives to assure we are accessing the full context of our nation’s past. Although it may be uncomfortable to acknowledge at times, understanding the full complexity of the trials our nation has faced over the years can better prepare us for whatever the future throws our way. While the tendencies of Trenton’s sentiments towards the war may have varied, what remains the same is the victory of those patriots who fought tirelessly for the nation’s freedom. The next time you’re taking a peak back at history, be certain to dig a little deeper, as you never know what you might discover!

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